Friday, March 24

Britain joins EU-China WTO challenge over Lithuania

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GENEVA — Britain will join a growing number of Western countries in backing the European Union in a case against China at the World Trade Organization over its alleged trade curbs on Lithuania, its trade minister said, in a move to oppose “coercive trading practices.”

The EU launched a challenge at the Geneva-based trade body last month, accusing China of discriminatory trade practices against Lithuania that it says threaten the integrity of the EU’s single market.

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“We will request to join the EU’s WTO consultation into these measures as a third party to ensure we combat economic coercion in trade together,” Anne-Marie Trevelyan said in a tweet.

Australia and Taiwan have already signaled they intend to join the consultations.

Lithuania’s foreign affairs ministry said on Twitter on Monday that the United States was also backing their case.

The office of the US Trade Representative Katherine Tai did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Washington often joins trade disputes as third parties and Tai has already voiced support for Lithuania -chief-expresses-support-lithuania-amid-china-coercion-2022-01-07.

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Vilnius is under pressure from China, which claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory, to reverse a decision last year to allow the island to open a de facto embassy in the capital under its own name.

China has downgraded diplomatic ties with the Baltic nation and pressured multinationals to sever ties with it.

The challenge at the WTO allows 60 days for the parties to confer in order to reach a settlement. If none is reached, the EU may choose to launch a formal dispute that would set up a WTO panel to study its claims against China.

A Geneva-based trade official said the participation of other Western countries, assuming they are not blocked by Beijing, would be “helpful” to the EU’s case.

“If you have other members arguing on your behalf and putting forward arguments, I think the panel would look at that,” he said. (Additional reporting by David Lawder in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci)